Venturing into Sustainable Business: A talk with Patagonia
April 29, 2019 | Sena Ame
On March 5th, SWR hosted “Venturing into Sustainable Business: A Talk with Patagonia.” Patagonia is a giant in the business of sustainable operations. Started by Yvon Chouinard in 1973 as Chouinard Equipment, the company developed from producing one piece of environmentally conscious climbing equipment for Yvon and his friends. The two speakers for the evening, Rebecca Goldstein (Environmental Coordinator, East Coast) and Mason Prout (Environmental Point Person, Toronto), shared where Patagonia has been and where they are going.
After growing the company from a climbing equipment manufacturer and expanding into clothing, Yvon built what is today a billion-dollar company, inspired by using business to protect the environment. Rebecca discussed how passionately Yvon believes that we are experiencing an environmental crisis that is bigger than has ever been seen, which is why Patagonia’s new mission is to be “in business to save our home planet”. This mission statement encompasses all parts of the company’s operations, from their supply chain to finances, employee development and product philosophy.
The following are some of the strategies they employ to operate sustainably. Patagonia prides itself on making multi-purpose products that last 20-30 years and come with free in-store repairs. This is vital as their research has found that the average U.S. citizen disposes of 70 lbs. of apparel each year and extending the life of a piece of apparel by 9 months would reduce emissions by 27%, water use by 33%, and waste by 22%. All product materials are assessed to ensure they are sustainable, hence their future goal of having all their synthetic materials be 100% renewable or recycled by 2025. This reduces its greenhouse gas footprint by 30% and water use by 50%.
In 2018, 46% of their products were fair trade certified – meaning Patagonia paid a premium on their products to create better working conditions and safeguard against child labor. The focus of their supply chain and operations, is to become climate neutral (100% powered by renewable energy) through their owned and operated locations. They are 71% of the way to achieving this goal, which is no easy feat considering how complex their supply chain is. Patagonia has also made the move to become politically active, backing candidates who stand for environmental causes, as they believe that businesses can be a catalyst for positive change.
The 1% For the Planet program is one such positive movement, as Mason described. Using 1% of all sales, Patagonia provides grants to their retail stores to fund environmental causes of their choosing. Patagonia has donated over $100 million to support environmental work since 1985. The 100% for the Planet program takes this a step further by giving away 100% of the government tax cuts for businesses that Patagonia reluctantly received ($10 million) and divvying that up between corporate grantees and retail stores to support more environmental causes. Looking to the future, Patagonia is working on making their company and the outdoors more inclusive and diverse. Additionally, they are exploring the world of Regenerative Organic Agriculture.
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